Volunteers honor veterans with personal hospital visits

Sanford Health Veterans Ambassadors encourage patients with military backgrounds

Two men speak in a hospital room as part of the Sanford Health Veterans Ambassador program.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Weckman looked around the Sanford USD Medical Center‘s private veterans lounge and considered the paintings, flags, club chairs and even the kitchen area as part of a sacred space.

“It’s kind of like holy ground in here,” he said.

Weckman, who is the director of veteran and military services at Sanford Health, said the Veterans Club helps bring back the camaraderie many veterans remember from their time in military service. It’s meant to help veterans and their families feel at home during their hospital stay — and to spark conversations that help them through to recovery.

Learn more: Veteran and military services at Sanford Health

Similarly, the Veterans Ambassador Program starts conversations between volunteers and patients with military backgrounds. Volunteer ambassadors simply extend those conversations to patients’ hospital rooms. It’s easier for veterans to talk to other veterans, Weckman said.

Veterans ambassador ‘like a relative’

Donald Graves, a veteran staying at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota hospital, said his visit from a Veterans Ambassador Program volunteer felt even closer than an old friend.

“Seems like a relative stopping to visit you,” he said.

Vietnam veteran Dave Rowe makes his rounds regularly as a volunteer with the Veterans Ambassador Program. During a recent visit, he introduced himself to fellow veteran Larry Dean Wilson, inviting him to the Veterans Club and letting him know what amenities were there to support him and his family.

While they were talking, their conversation drifted to how Vietnam War veterans were received on their return home. Wilson paused a moment, swallowed hard, and blinked back tears.

“Having a fellow veteran to talk to about that sort of thing is terrific,” Wilson said.

Rowe said that can happen when he connects with another veteran.

“When he starts to get emotional, I start to get emotional. Because what he’s saying? I’ve felt the same thing,” Rowe said.

Before he leaves each veteran’s room, Rowe offers to “pin” them — a gesture military veterans recognize as an honor. Pins are one way Sanford Health recognizes veterans in their workplace and in their care.

Keith Strom, a veteran and Sanford Health patient, appreciated Rowe’s visit to his hospital room.

“It means a lot to have a guy from the veterans stop by and talk to me,” he said. “At least you know you haven’t been forgotten about.”

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Posted In Faces of Sanford Health, Health Care Heroes, Veterans

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